Heart Infection Risk May Be Linked To Opioid Abuse: Study
Amid a worsening opioid abuse epidemic in the United States, new research suggests that the problems are also contributing to an increase in serious heart infections.
Rates of drug-related endocarditis doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to findings presented last week at the annual meeting of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it’s findings are considered preliminary.
Researchers from West Virginia’s Charleston Area Medical Center analyzed data from cases of 66 people admitted for endocarditis related to drug abuse in 2015. The number of drug-related endocarditis cases increased from 26 cases in 2008.
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The 66 patients treated at the hospital accumulated nearly $4.6 million in medical charges. Patients with endocarditis are typically very sick and can spend weeks to months in the hospital.
Most of the patients were uninsured or insured through a government program. Thus, the hospital was not reimbursed for the majority of the charges. Over the entire study period the hospital billed $17 million in charges; however, it was reimbursed for only $3.8 million.
Endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart and heart valves. It is often life-threatening and can result from using dirty needles to shoot heroin or other drugs. Research published earlier this year indicated using opioids increases a person’s risk of contracting other serious infections, like meningitis or pneumonia.
Endocarditis is typically treated with intravenous antibiotics for two to six weeks. However, some cases require surgery to repair damaged heart valves or to help clear the infection. In some instances, the condition can be fatal to patient.
Researchers warn that the increase in heart infections is directly related to an increase in opioid drug overdoses. West Virginia is a state especially hit hard by the drug epidemic.
In 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. Narcotic painkillers were involved in two-third of overdose deaths. West Virginia has some of the highest opioid death rates.
Drug abusers tend to follow similar patterns, indicated researchers of the new study. First, they began abusing prescription opioids, often when they didn’t need the prescription. Many ER doctors prescribe more opioids to patients than they realize. Then, when opioids became too difficult to get legally from doctors, they moved on to illegal street drugs, like heroin.
If an addict continues on the path of addiction, without getting any help, he or she may experience other serious health consequences, like life-threatening bacterial infections, endocarditis, HIV, and hepatitis C.
Many of the patients who died from opioid-related endocarditis lived far from providers who offered anti-overdose or withdrawal medications, like naloxone. Many patients in rural West Virginia have no access to these types of medications.
For that reason, the Surgeon General recently urged Americans to become familiar with using the drugs used to counteract opioid overdoses. Opioid abuse and overdoses continue to worsen in the U.S. Opioid deaths now outnumber breast cancer fatalities.
The findings of the new study were presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions and are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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